The Power of Emotion
Passion is everything.
That’s what I tell clients when they ask me what they can do to be better dog trainers, and better mentors to their dogs. Then of course I have to explain.
As per a recent study done by neuroscientist Gregory Berns at Emory College, it has been shown through MRI tests that dogs have emotion capabilities and responses nearly identical to humans. Duh. We, of course, have known this all along from experience, but it is nice to have the clinical evidence to quantify it. These emotions, of course, run the gamut, from unstoppable love and adoration, to blatant anger or abject fear. Dogs love, hate, fear, worry, smile, remember, anticipate, dream– just like us. And so, like us, they are capable of bad thoughts and actions, as well as good. They are capable of hurting or helping, and of using (and understanding) negative reinforcements to get what they want.
As a trainer, I must identify a dog’s emotional potential before I can understand her, and then change her. And, knowing that dogs understand and respond to emotion in near-identical ways to us, I must concede that, to be a better trainer, I must use emotion in my training.
If one of my dogs jumps up on a elderly person, for instance, I must deal with the transgression in a logical manner. But as an emotional creature responding to another emotional creature, I must not act as if nothing bad happened. I want my dog to know he did wrong, and that he has upset me, his CEO. I want that. My voice will deepen, my posture will change, my eye contact will be more intense. My dog will know that he has done wrong, and that he is being judged. I will not hit, scream, intimidate or humiliate, but I will not be afraid to show emotion. Dogs need that. They get that.
Dogs need rules and boundaries, just as kids do. Without them, they devolve into pushy, confused little knuckleheads. So we give them boundaries; we train them to understand right and wrong, and to recognize consequences. I do not suffer from the illusion that ignoring a bad behavior (jumping on Grandma) will eventually extinguish that behavior. That is poppycock; the dog will simply keep doing it, because there is no reason not to.
You dog has natural inclinations, and does not need any kind of reinforcement or encouragement to keep doing it. Jumping up is a puppyish behavior that eventually becomes a way for a dog to control, and to make a statement regarding status. Turning away from a big jumpy dog is simply a way of saying “ I concede to your bullying.” And we all know that ignoring bullies only empowers them. Bullies don’t stop bullying when the bullied ignore them.
I let my dogs know that jumping up is not cool. They sense it in my demeanor. That is doggish. That’s natural. Then I work the behavior, with the person who was jumped on. I get my dog to think through it, while also using his innate understanding of emotion to communicate on a deeper level. It is not unfair. Its doggish.
Likewise, I show emotion when my dog does good things. If my pit mix Rico completes an agility run in a great time, I praise the heck out of him, love on him, give him things, treat him like a rock star. I do that not only because it reinforces the accomplishment but because he gets the joy of it.
Don’t lose your temper. Don’t hurt, scream, bully or berate. But don’t be afraid of showing passion, because it’s a language your dog appreciates.
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